Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is absolutely essential for brain health, blood flow, and immunity. Should you supplement? Read on to find out.
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an essential water-soluble micronutrient that has had a dramatic influence on world history. Naval and sea battles have literally been won and lost based on the numbers of the naval forces sick with scurvy (severe Vitamin C deficiency) .
In this article, I will take you through exactly what the science says Vitamin C could do for your health.
Vitamin C Snapshot
- Helps prevent colds & flu when the body is stressed
- Very safe
- A lot of people find high dose vitamin C very good for immunodeficiency, chronic toxin or infectious problems
- Good anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory
- Good for mood
- Good for skin & bone health
- Good for a wide array of conditions
- Good for histamine intolerance
- High dose vitamin C has anti-cancer effects
- May cause kidney stones
- Can cause a bit of nausea or stomach upset
- Can cause loose stools if too much is taken
1) Is Vital for Brain Health
As proof of the importance of Vitamin C for brain health, the brain retains Vitamin C at the expense of other tissues during chronic states of deficiency and can uphold concentrations 100-fold higher than other organs, e.g. liver and kidney [5, 6].
Vitamin C modulates neurotransmitter systems of the brain (cholinergic, catecholaminergic, and glutamatergic) .
Vitamin C helps the general development of neurons through maturation, differentiation and myelin formation .
Vitamin C helps to maintain the integrity and function of several processes in the vascular system , which helps brain function.
Vitamin C participates in neuronal maturation and myelin formation (the electrically insulating layer around nerves) and is also involved in transmitting signals through the nervous system via neurotransmitters .
Vitamin C also prevents neuronal damage .
2) Improves Mood
Long-term Vitamin C deprivation is linked to nervousness and emotional instability .
There was a 35% reduction in mood disturbance in hospitalized patients following treatment with Vitamin C .
A study found that Vitamin C supplementation does not have large effects on psychological performance, personality or current mental state, in young men (17-29 years) except in cases where supplementation corrects an existing deficiency .
3) Lowers Anxiety
Vitamin C reduced anxiety in high school students .
Short-term supplementation of Vitamin C was safe and beneficial for reducing anxiety levels in diabetic patients .
4) Helps to Combat Depression
In a trial including depressed shift workers, Vitamin C significantly decreased depression severity .
Vitamin C deficient mice are less active .
Poor Vitamin C status is associated with increased symptoms of depression following an acute illness in older people .
Adequate Vitamin C levels are necessary for the conversion of the neurotransmitter dopamine to norepinephrine, an important hormone in depression and mood swings , explaining why patients with Vitamin C depletion have significantly increased symptoms of depression .
Vitamin C also increases the effectiveness of antidepressants . Patients treated for six months with fluoxetine and Vitamin C showed a significant decrease in depressive symptoms compared to the fluoxetine plus placebo group .
5) Reduces Fatigue
Administration of high dose intravenous Vitamin C reduced fatigue in office workers .
Vitamin C delays fatigue in rats .
6) May Slow Age-Related Cognitive Decline
Chronic low Vitamin C status in humans is associated with neurodegenerative disorders .
Vitamin C levels were significantly lower in elderly people suffering from different kinds of dementia .
Vitamin C injected for 3 consecutive days improved learning and memory of aged mice .
In rodents, Vitamin C treatments countered the impaired memory caused by chronic sleep deprivation .
Supplementation with Vitamin C reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in humans .
In the aging brain, Vitamin C deficiency may impair cognitive function through reduced signal transduction, as well as amyloid β deposition resulting in a generation of reactive oxygen species and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease .
7) May Improve Thyroid Activity (in low doses)
8) Improves Blood Pressure
Vitamin C significantly lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with mild-to-moderately high blood pressure .
9) Is Beneficial for Blood Flow
Vitamin C helps to prevent blood vessel dysfunction, stimulate collagen synthesis, and enhances cell proliferation of blood vessel cells .
Vitamin C plays a positive role in reversing the earliest stages of hardening of the arteries .
Vitamin C deficiency may result in decreased blood vessel integrity, e.g. through decreased NOS generation and impaired synthesis of mature collagen. This might lead to increased plaque formation and the incidence of stroke .
10) May Combat Cancer & Ease Cancer Treatment
A number of reports suggest that high-dose Vitamin C has anticancer effects .
High-dose Vitamin C is more toxic to cancer than it is to normal cells and induces death of various types of cancer cells including mesothelioma, pancreatic, and leukemia cells .
High-dose Vitamin C suppresses tumor growth in animal models and tissue culture studies .
High dietary Vitamin C reduces gastric cancer risk .
Higher dietary Vitamin C intake before breast cancer diagnosis increased the chances of survival. This association was strongest among women aged over 65 .
Men with low Vitamin C levels have a 62% higher risk of dying from cancer .
Intravenous Vitamin C alleviates a number of cancer- and chemotherapy-related symptoms, such as fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, and pain .
Vitamin C can reduce pain by 55% in radiotherapy patients with bone cancer .
Vitamin C can improve the quality of life of cancer patients, including reduced pain and the need for painkillers, both in the presence and absence of chemo- and radiotherapy .
11) Protects the Lungs From Oxidative Stress
Levels of vitamin C in the lungs are up to 30 times higher than in the blood.
Vitamin C gets consumed while it protects against oxidants, indicating that even a single dose of vitamin C can be effective in protecting against acute increases in oxidative stress in the lungs .
12) Boosts Immunity
Many infections lead to reduced Vitamin C levels .
Vitamin C reduces the incidence of pneumonia .
Vitamin C decreased the duration and severity of respiratory infections in male swimmers, but not in females .
Vitamin C eradicates H. pylori infection in 30% of patients treated .
13) Helps Reduce Inflammation
As mentioned above, Vitamin C can inhibit obesity-related inflammation, and therefore prevent obesity-related inflammatory diseases .
Vitamin C reduced oxidative stress and inﬂamatory response to artificially induced inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (reduced inﬂammatory cytokines, (MPO) and malonaldehyde (MDA) activities) .
14) Lowers Histamine Levels
When Vitamin C levels decrease, blood histamine levels increase .
Therefore, vitamin C is good for people with histamine intolerance.
15) Protects the Gut
Vitamin C can improve gut tolerability to aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) .
Vitamin C saves mice from irradiation-induced gut damage that is usually lethal .
16) Is Beneficial for Mitochondria
Vitamin C stimulates mitochondrial function, by decreasing ROS generation, stimulating the activity of manganese superoxide dismutase/SOD2 and glutathione peroxidase, and by modifying the activity of the electron transport chain .
Vitamin C protects the mitochondrial membrane and DNA against oxidative damage .
17) Is Beneficial for Exercise & Recovery
Vitamin C increases physical performance and decreases oxidative stress – but only in those with an already low Vitamin C status .
Vitamin C decreases the levels of free radicals generated during exercise and attenuates oxidative stress .
18) Combats Weight Gain
People with adequate levels of Vitamin C burn 30% more fat during moderate exercise compared to subjects with low Vitamin C levels .
Vitamin C lowers the fat accumulation of fat cells.
Indeed, Vitamin C supplementation has been associated with body weight reduction and a massive reduction in the number of fat cells in rats and guinea pigs .
Low Vitamin C levels are related to a high waist-to-hip ratio .
19) Is Beneficial for Diabetics
Vitamin C administration improved whole-body glucose disposal and non-oxidative glucose metabolism .
Reductions in glucose and insulin levels were much better in rats fed a high-fat diet supplemented with Vitamin C for 2 weeks, compared to those fed high fat alone .
Vitamin C protects against diabetic blindness, improves high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-c), and improves blood vessel function .
Vitamin C may benefit patients with type 2 diabetes by decreasing blood glucose and lipids .
Vitamin C inhibits the production of cortisol/glucocorticoids which raise blood sugar .
20) Facilitates Collagen Production
Stabilization of collagen by Vitamin C is critical to forming the connective tissue framework of the entire body; including skin, bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels .
The final steps of collagen production depend on Vitamin C (Vitamin C acts as an electron donor in the hydroxylation of procollagen prolyl and lysyl residues) .
Vitamin C deficiency disrupts collagen maturation, leading to impaired integrity of the blood vessel wall, hemorrhage, and cerebral bleedings in mice .
21) Is Good for Your Bones
Vitamin C is essential for normal bone development .
In humans, there is a positive relationship between Vitamin C levels and bone health, indicated by bone mineral density, fracture probability, and bone turnover markers .
Vitamin C-deficient animals show impaired bone health and decreased bone formation. Vitamin C supplementation was able to prevent bone loss in several animal models .
Vitamin C deficiency plays an important role in spontaneous bone fracture by inhibiting bone cell differentiation and promoting the transition of bone cells into fat cells in mice .
Higher Vitamin C intakes were associated with a lower risk of osteoporosis in Korean adults aged over 50 with low levels of physical activity .
22) Is Great for Your Skin
Vitamin C contributes to the maintenance of healthy skin .
Applied to the skin, topical Vitamin C is highly efficient as a rejuvenation therapy, inducing significant collagen synthesis with minimal side effects .
Topical Vitamin C can partially correct structural changes associated with the aging process .
Vitamin C is an effective short-term treatment for melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation .
23) May Protect From Stroke
In rodents and primates, Vitamin C reduced the area of brain deprived of blood supply during a stroke .
In humans, higher Vitamin C levels are associated with a lower likelihood of stroke .
24) Is Beneficial for Smokers
People who smoke have lower levels of blood and cellular Vitamin C (and vitamin E) .
Vitamin C supplements of 500 mg twice daily for two weeks were sufficient to normalize the disappearance rate of vitamin E in smokers .
25) Increases Frequency Of Sex
In one study, high-dose Vitamin C improved mood and increased the intercourse frequency of 42 healthy adults .
26) Combats Sea Sickness
Histamine is a potential causative agent of seasickness. People exposed to waves show increases in histamine levels.
Vitamin C is effective in suppressing symptoms of seasickness, particularly in younger individuals .
27) Reduces Toxin Burden
Vitamin C reduces the amount of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the human body .
28) Improves Sperm Quality
Vitamin C improved sperm motility and structure in men .
29) Is Beneficial During Pregnancy
In the developing brain of a baby, neuronal density and maturation are compromised by Vitamin C deficiency, giving rise to decreased brain volume .
An absence of Vitamin C is detrimental to survival in newborn mice. Furthermore, deficiency around birth reduced hippocampal volume and neuron number and cause decreased spatial cognition in guinea pigs .
30) Is Beneficial After Surgery
Blood Vitamin C concentrations fall after surgery, and a further decline in patients under surgical intensive care, due to an increased demand caused by increased oxidative stress .
In uncomplicated gastrointestinal surgery, continuous administration of Vitamin C reduced post-operative oxidative stress .
Post-operative atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm) was prevented after cardiac surgery by vitamin C supplementation .
31) Vitamin C and Hormones
32) Increases Nutrient Availability
Vitamin C enhances the bioavailability of other nutrients, such as vitamin E and non-heme iron, which may enhance the health effects of Vitamin C-containing foods .
33) Lowers Cortisol
Vitamin C is extremely important as an antioxidant owing to its ability to neutralize oxygen and nitrogen-based radicals, and because it also recycles both vitamin E and BH4 (tetrahydrobiopterin), which have key antioxidant and enzyme cofactor functions .
Vitamin C contributes to many important enzyme reactions, including those leading to the synthesis of norepinephrine, carnitine, cholesterol, amino acids, and several peptide hormones .
Because of its structural similarity to glucose, Vitamin C can replace glucose in many chemical reactions, and it can prevent the non-enzymatic glycosylation of proteins .
Most animals can produce Vitamin C from glucose in the liver. However, humans have lost this ability and so an adequate, regular dietary intake is essential .
Vitamin C is needed in relatively high quantities since it is not retained nor accumulated in the body and the excess is immediately eliminated through urine .
Current USA RDA for Vitamin C is 75 mg/day for women and 90 mg/day for men .
Amounts up to 125 mg/day are recommended for pregnant or lactating women, and an additional 35 mg per day to account for increased oxidative stress and vitamin C turnover in smokers .
The RDA for a given nutrient is calculated based on avoiding deficiency. Several sources now suggest that RDA should be as much as double the currently advised 75-125 mg per day depending on age, gender, pregnancy and smoking habits .
At Vitamin C intakes above 60 mg/d, vitamin C begins to appear in the urine. However, intakes of 250 mg/d and higher (approximately 400 mg/day) are required to saturate vitamin C concentrations in the blood and white blood cells [21, 1].
The ‘tolerable upper intake level’ is stated to be 2 g/day for adults but many people are fine taking larger doses (see cautions below) .
Patients with pneumonia can take up to 100 g/day of Vitamin C without developing diarrhea, because of the changes in Vitamin C metabolism caused by the infection .
When the daily dose is increased from 200 to 2,500 mg the blood concentration increase only from approximately 12 to 15 mg/L due to kidney clearance. Hence why some state that there is no justification for megadoses of vitamin C in healthy individuals .
Deficient Blood Levels of Vitamin C
Vitamin C is absorbed from the intestinal lumen and kidney tubules and then distributed throughout the organism by the bloodstream .
The uptake and distribution of Vitamin C in the body is under close control and primarily regulated by tissue-specific, sodium-dependent Vitamin C co-transporters (SVCT) 1 and 2, which transport Vitamin C in exchange of sodium .
Generally, blood Vitamin C concentration of:
- <11 μM is considered to be deficient
- 11–28 μM is depleted or marginally deficient
- 28–40 μM is adequate
- > 40 μM is optimal 
22% of U.S. adults are believed to have below adequate Vitamin C status (blood concentrations < 28 µmol/L), and about 6% of the adult population is classified as Vitamin C deficient (<11 µmol/L) .
Organs With Highest Vitamin C Need
Vitamin C is found in high concentrations in the pituitary, adrenals, and the ovaries, but muscle, brain, and liver contain the largest stores of this vitamin .
Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency
Early indications of Vitamin C deficiency are fatigue, malaise, depression, and they may manifest as a reduced desire to be physically active .
Scurvy (pathological Vitamin C deficiency) leads to blood vessel fragility resulting in hemorrhage, as well as connective tissue damage due to failure in collagen production, often leading to loss of teeth and tendon rupture. At worse, scurvy can lead to death [4, 21].
Factors That Cause Low Vitamin C
Non-supplementing men aged 20-49 are particularly at risk of poor Vitamin C status .
Vitamin C concentrations decrease with age .
Patients receiving kidney dialysis are prone to deficiency of Vitamin C .
Schizophrenic patients tend to have significantly lower levels of blood Vitamin C .
Subgroups at particular risk of Vitamin C deficiency are communities of low socio-economic status, smokers, elderly, pregnant women, and children with poor nutritional status .
blood Vitamin C levels differ according to polymorphisms of SVCT2 and SVCT1 .
Supplemental intakes greater than 500 mg per day may cause kidney stones in those that are prone to them .
Vitamin C can enhance iron absorption by maintaining iron in ferrous (Fe2+) rather than ferric (Fe3+) state. This is beneficial in some patients (such as those with gut issues and low ferritin) but not in those that suffer from medical conditions that cause iron overload .
High intake of Vitamin C exerts a pro-oxidant effect by its interaction with metal ions via a number of established RONS generating systems. Caution should be exerted regarding surplus vitamin C intake for patients with chronic inflammatory diseases or atherosclerosis [70, 21].
Some research has found that combining high-dose Vitamin C and vitamin E supplementation can be harmful, even though the harm may be restricted to selected groups among smokers .
Vitamin C intake might be responsible for high serum uric acid levels, based on a study in Korean rural communities .
Higher uric acid can be a good thing, such as improving productivity and intelligence, but it can cause problems if you’re prone to kidney stones or gout.
High Vitamin C intake from supplements was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in postmenopausal women with diabetes .
As shown in the picture above, you can find variable amounts of Vitamin C in many fruits and vegetables. Personally, to get a truly therapeutic dose and to be able to measure exactly how much Vitamin C I am getting daily (food levels vary), I choose to supplement.
Most comparative bioavailability studies in humans have shown no differences between synthetic and natural Vitamin C, regardless of the subject population, study design or intervention used .
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